1. Stop grading terrorists as good and bad: India in UN
Political convenience must not dictate such decisions and there cannot be an exception or justification for any act of terrorism, the country says in a concept note for the Security Council
The era of classifying terrorists as “bad” or “good” on the basis of “political convenience” must end immediately, a concept note circulated by India in the UN Security Council here has said, underlining that categorising terror acts by intent as religious or ideologically motivated will dilute the shared global commitment to fighting terrorism.
Stressing that terrorism cannot be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group, the note said all acts of terrorism were criminal. “Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations must be condemned. There cannot be an exception or justification for any act of terrorism, regardless of its motivation and wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed. The era of classifying terrorists as ‘bad’, ‘not so bad’ or ‘good’ on the basis of political convenience must end immediately,” it said.
India, the current President of the 15-nation Council, will hold two signature events on reformed multilateralism and counter-terrorism to be chaired by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Wednesday and Thursday.
India proposes to organise a briefing of the Security Council on Thursday on “Global counter-terrorism approach — principles and the way forward” under the “Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts”. Ahead of the meeting, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ruchira Kamboj, in a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, asked that a concept note intended to guide the discussions on the topic be circulated as a document of the Security Council.
“The terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001 were a turning point in the global approach to counter-terrorism. Since then, London, Mumbai, Paris, many parts of West Asia and Africa have also experienced terrorist attacks,” the concept note last week said. It added that these attacks highlight that the threat of terrorism is universal and that terrorism in one part seriously impacts peace and security elsewhere.
2. India urged to adopt ASEAN consensus on Myanmar
India and other countries should “respect” and follow the ASEAN’s policy on Myanmar rather than taking a “different” path, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi says.
In comments to The Hindu about India’s decision to engage the Myanmar military government that came to power in February 2021 after deposing the elected National Unity Government and jailing thousands of leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, Ms. Marsudi said that it could make efforts of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations towards democracy “less effective”.
Instead, she urged India and other countries to follow the ASEAN “five point consensus”.
3. Capturing ‘problem’ elephants, the Tamil Nadu way
From meticulous planning to execution, a recently concluded successful operation to capture an elephant called Pandalur Makhna-2, or PM2, in the picturesque Nilgiris has turned the spotlight on the Tamil Nadu Forest Department’s excellent recent track record in safely capturing “problem” elephants from the wild and relocating them to areas where they will have fewer conflicts with human beings.
No doubt, the long-drawn-out operation to capture PM2 in Gudalur was criticised by some residents frustrated with the time it took for the Forest Department to deal with the elephant. However, officials explain that a number of factors, centred on ensuring the safety of the elephant as well as that of the Forest Department staff and residents, are kept in mind before an elephant is tranquillised.
“Gudalur and Pandalur are extremely challenging environments for an operation to be undertaken due to the topography of the landscape. The safety of the animal is of paramount importance, while post-darting procedures to reach the animal quickly and get it ready for transportation means that the darting procedure can only be done in a few pre-determined locations,” explained a senior Forest Department official, who was involved in the operation.
Explaining the challenges associated with capturing PM2, Conservator of Forests, D. Venkatesh, said the animal, which is alleged to have damaged around 78 mud houses in the past two years, had become extremely attuned to humans and the workings of the Forest Department. “The moment the animal hears the sounds of approaching forest vehicles and staff, it moves away into the forests,” he said.
The operation to capture an elephant requires meticulous planning and coordination to pull off, with the animal having to be identified and its behaviour studied.
“It’s home range, health condition, the ideal locations where it can be darted safely, the approach to the animal post-darting, are all factored in during an operation,” Dr. Kalaivanan said.
“This is why kumki elephants and elephant camps are so crucial, as without them or the elephant men, the only solution to deal with ‘problem’ elephants like PM2 would be to cull them,” he added.
Tracking teams, darting teams, management teams and release teams all have a crucial role to play during an operation and its success is dependent on coordination of the teams. The Forest Department also used drones to track PM2 and hone in on his location.
“Each operation is different, and the time period varies depending on the animal. For instance, in Coimbatore, the order to capture two elephants, Vinayaga and Chinna Thambi, was passed together, and while it took only a day to capture Vinayaga, it took 48 days to capture the latter,” Mr. Venkatesh said.
4. The role of the ‘China Test’ in India’s grand strategy
If principal contradictions must determine strategic priorities, New Delhi should decide what its principal contradiction is. The concept of a principal contradiction — one that poses the most intense challenge to an individual/organisation, and has the power to shape its future choices and consequent outcomes — is a useful method of optimising and prioritising strategic decision-making. Whether or not Indian policymakers articulate it as such, China is contemporary India’s principal strategic contradiction. Every other challenge, be it Pakistan, internal insurgencies, and difficulties in relations with its neighbours, fall in the category of secondary contradictions.
If so, I would argue that major decisions in New Delhi’s strategic decision matrix should pass the China test, which amounts to asking and answering a rather straightforward question: “does x or y decision/development/relationship help deal with the China challenge, or not?” Decision-makers must then view the decision/development/relationship in the light of this answer. It is not that secondary contradictions are not important or that they do not add to the primary contradiction. A perspicacious ‘China test’ can help prioritise strategic decision making in the longer run, at least as an analytical tool with potential policy utility.
From an operational point of view, the ‘China test’ consists of three distinct elements. First, an assessment of how a certain Indian decision or a specific regional development squares with Chinese regional strategy or interests. Second, an assessment of whether India’s decision or a certain regional development would require India to make modifications at the level of secondary contradictions. And third, an assessment of whether this would require any major policy changes internally. Let me highlight the utility of the ‘China test’ using a few examples.
New Delhi has had a complicated relationship with Washington which is increasingly getting normalised and interests-driven. Despite its withdrawal from the region, Washington is seeking to re-engage southern Asia (Pakistan, South Asia in general, the Indo-Pacific, and perhaps even the Taliban). It appears that one of the lessons New Delhi learnt from the standoff with China along the Line of Actual Control in 2020 was that it was perhaps a consequence of India’s growing proximity to the U.S. If so, should New Delhi temper its relations with the U.S., particularly in the Indo-Pacific, in the hope that this will keep Beijing’s aggression at bay? Or, should India continue the strategic partnership with the U.S. irrespective of what China thinks about it?
What would a ‘China test’ of India-U.S. relations suggest? Given that Beijing seeks to dominate the region, it is clearly not in its interest to see an American reengagement of the region or growing India-U.S. proximity. If so, the lack of/lukewarm India-U.S. strategic engagement in the region is precisely what would help Beijing’s long-term objectives. A China test would suggest that New Delhi should not give into the short-term temptation of not being on the wrong side of China given its long-term implications. While the fears of such a relationship irking China may not be entirely unjustified, they invariably play into the Chinese strategy of boxing India in the region.
Does the China test require India to pacify its relationship with Pakistan? Let us ask ourselves the question: “does making (relative) peace with Pakistan help India better deal with China?” The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding yes. Imagine this. For China, the best-case scenario is an India vigorously preoccupied with Pakistan which ensures that India is not focused on the growing threat from China, thereby providing Beijing with the opportunity to displace traditional Indian primacy in South Asia. So, for India, a course-correction on Pakistan, even if it is only post facto, is a strategically sensible one.
Let me put that somewhat differently. What India should actively seek is not a balance of power in South Asia with Pakistan but balancing Chinese power in Southern Asia. Hence, India’s objective in South Asia should be to seek a pacification of conflicts with Pakistan, so that it can focus on China. Similarly, India need not oppose the American engagement of Pakistan for the same reason — it helps prevent Pakistan from going into the China camp completely. A Pakistan engaged with the U.S. and the West is better for India than a Pakistan shunned by the U.S. and the West.
The Russia connection
India-Russia relations in the wake of the Ukraine war are among the most debated bilateral relationships in the world today. Let us apply the China test to examine the logic behind India-Russia relations in the face of western pressure on India to decouple from Moscow. “Does continuing its relationship with Moscow help New Delhi better deal with the China challenge?”
The answer may not be a straightforward one, but the China test does provide an answer. The U.S. and its allies would like India to stop engaging with Moscow and condemn its aggression against Ukraine — which India has refused to do so far. In return, there is on offer greater accommodation of Indian interests including perhaps diplomatic and political support against Chinese aggression. There is also the growing proximity between Moscow and Beijing which reduces the robustness of India-Russia relations. So, does the China test require New Delhi to continue to engage with Moscow against all these odds? While I am personally convinced that India-Russia relations are on the wane, there is a strong rationale for New Delhi to continue its relationship with Moscow — which is China.
Consider this. If indeed New Delhi was to completely break away from Russia (as India’s U.S. and western partners have asked India to), what would be the likely consequences of such a decision? Such a decision is most likely to play into China’s hands. For one, in the absence of an India-Russia relationship, the extent of Sino-Russian cooperation is likely to strengthen, and India will be cut out of the continental space to its north and west. Second, New Delhi continues to get discounted energy, cheaper defence equipment (even if some of it has to be retrofitted with more sophisticated technology from elsewhere), support at the United Nations Security Council, and Moscow has been understanding of New Delhi’s ‘political sensitivities’ more than its western partners. If India decides to break away from Russia, many of these could come to a grinding halt, and the natural beneficiary of such an eventuality will, undoubtedly, be China. This could also push Moscow towards Pakistan with or without some nudging from Beijing.
It is also important to note that Moscow is not keen to have China dominate the strategic space around it and has been keen to balance the growing influence of China in Central Asia with partners such as New Delhi. New Delhi’s turn away from Moscow will ensure that China gets a free hand in Central Asia too. In one sense, therefore, the China piece best explains the enigma called India-Russia relations.
For New Delhi, the message from the China test is a rather straightforward one — smart balancing China in Southern Asia and beyond must form a key element in India’s grand strategic planning and decision making.
5. Questioning the basis of clerical shariah
Last month, Afghanistan’s self-styled supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada decreed that cases in which shariah conditions of hudud (crimes against God) and qisas (justified retaliation) were fulfilled, judges must implement “Islamic” punishments because “this is the ruling of shariah, and my command, which is obligatory.” Within days of this arrogant pronouncement, 11 men and three women were publicly flogged by the Taliban for committing “moral crimes” such as theft and adultery.
The Taliban are not alone in interpreting Islam in such a narrow way. In July, Sudan sentenced a woman to death by stoning for adultery. Indonesia recently passed a law that makes sex outside marriage punishable by a year in jail on complaints by a spouse, parents or children.
The fact is, most Muslim countries treat the Quran and books of hadith as nothing more than congeries of fossilised codes to be imposed in the name of shariah. The distortion of these texts, and especially the concept of hudud, has been so gross that the law that prevails in Muslim societies has not just maligned Islam but enslaved Muslims to the diktats of religious absolutism.
For centuries Muslim jurists have defined hudud as prosecutable offences against Allah such as adultery, fornication, theft, unproved allegations of unchastity, apostasy, and even blasphemy. But these acts have not been called hudud crimes in the Quran. The Quranic hududullah are the inviolable “limits of Allah” mentioned in the context of the rules of Ramzan fasting (2:187), inheritance rights (4:11-14), and the rights of divorced women (2:229-230, 58:2-4, and 65:1). They have no connection with the post-Prophetic definition of hudud laws formalised by the authoritarian alliance between successive Muslim Caliphates and their clergy which even introduced, in the name of Prophetic practice (sunnah), extra-Quranic punishments for some of these offences. For instance, a distinction between fornication and adultery was created to over criminalise the former with 100 life-threatening lashes and the latter with death by stoning, a punishment not mentioned in the Quran.
The Quranic sin of zina (consensual sex outside marriage) is, in reality, independent of the marital status of the parties. And the punishment of 100 lashes in public for it hinges entirely on the impossible condition that the act must have been physically seen by at least four persons (24:2). Failure to support an accusation of zina with four eyewitnesses invites a penalty of 80 lashes (24:4). This unattainable prerequisite indicates that the Quranic pronouncements on zina are more in the nature of highlighting its immorality than giving anyone the right to police the private lives of citizens.
The Prophet was reluctant to punish even those who voluntarily admitted to committing “moral crimes”. A hadith in Bukhari states that when a penitent beseeched the Prophet to punish him for a moral crime, the Prophet told him that considering the congregational prayer he had just offered, “Allah has forgiven your legally punishable sin”. Another hadith in Tirmizi quotes the Prophet as asking Muslims to avert legal punishments as much as possible because it is better to err in pardoning than in punishing.
The Prophet’s understanding of lashing (jaldah) too was a far cry from the murderous flogging legalised by some Muslim states. According to hadiths in Bukhari and Bulugh al-Maram, the “whip” during the Prophet’s time was twisted cloth or two palm leaf stalks. In other words, the Prophet did not see jaldah as a punitive device to inflict corporal pain. His reluctance to use even flimsy whips underlines his attitude towards the negative impacts of retributivism. It also proves that he practised the doctrines of lenity and constitutional avoidance long before these became axioms of modern law.
Nonetheless, the Quranic idea of lashing as a deterrent to prevent sexual immorality should not be judged on the basis of modern legal theories because it would amount to decontextualising it from 7th century norms. What needs to be appreciated is how the Prophet practised it.
If non-Muslims are not conscious of this fact, it is because Muslim jurists over the centuries have, using questionable hadiths, undermined the Prophet’s compassionate exposition of the Quran. For instance, a hadith in Muslim narrates that a person, Ma’iz ibn Malik al-Aslami, confessed to his sin of adultery on three consecutive days but was turned away by the Prophet. When he came back on the fourth day, the Prophet had him stoned to death. The same hadith narrates how a pregnant adulteress was repeatedly sent back by the Prophet and stoned to death after the child was born and fully weaned. The basis of these unbelievable hadiths is another unbelievable hadith in Muslim in which the Prophet is alleged to have ruled that the punishment for fornication is 100 lashes and a year in exile, while adulterers are to be first flogged 100 times and then stoned to death.
What Muslim theologians don’t seem to comprehend is that the Prophet could never have gone against the book he was ordered to recite and explicate (3:164). When some of his detractors asked him to tamper with the Quran, he said, “It is not for me to change it of my own accord. I only follow what is revealed to me”(10:15).
Yet some hadiths would have us falsely believe that the Prophet went beyond the Quran and even introduced punishments not mentioned in it. If Islam is to be rescued from such malignant distortions, the Muslim laity must start challenging the clergy’s right to deduce law from hadiths that violate the Quran.
6. Crypto regulation a key focus area as G-20 finance talks begin tomorrow
A coordinated approach to regulating crypto assets, managing debt vulnerabilities and reorienting global financial institutions have been identified as critical focus areas of the Finance Track agenda for India’s G-20 Presidency, which will kick off with the first meeting of G-20 finance and central bank deputies in Bengaluru on Tuesday.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das will steer the overall Finance Track during India’s G-20 Presidency, with the first meeting of Finance Ministers and central bank Governors of member countries also scheduled to be held in the Karnataka capital from February 23 to 25.
Nearly 40 meetings have been planned under the Finance Track all over the country, with various working groups and four Minister-level meetings that “will endeavour to add significant value to the global economic discourse”, officials said.
A globally coordinated approach to unbacked crypto assets, advancing the international taxation agenda, managing global debt vulnerabilities, advancing financial inclusion and productivity gains, financing for climate action and sustainable development goals, and financing “cities of tomorrow” are some of the key issues identified for focussed discussions during these G-20 meetings.
This week’s parleys will be co-chaired by Ajay Seth, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, and Michael D. Patra, Deputy Governor of the RBI. Their counterparts from G-20 member countries, and from several other countries and international organisations invited by India, will participate in the two-day meeting.
“The Finance Ministry, after extended consultations, has curated a robust agenda which will ultimately feed into the G-20 leaders’ declaration when Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosts the summit next year. We have imbibed the PM Modi’s idea in his address at the Bali G-20 summit that ‘the need today is that benefits of development are universal and all-inclusive’ in the G-20 Finance Track agenda,” Mr. Seth said on Sunday.
“We are hopeful the Finance Track will lead to sustainable and inclusive growth for all and bring more resilience to the global economy,” he said.
7. Enforcement agencies stepping up action against pro-Khalistan forces
A coordinated crackdown on pro-Khalistan elements within and outside the country has started yielding results for the law enforcement organisations, with the National Investigation Agency (NIA) succeeding in making two key arrests this month. About two dozen accused and suspects currently operating from overseas are under the scanner.
The latest arrest made by the NIA is that of alleged terrorist Bikramjit Singh, who was wanted in connection with the September 2019 Tarn Taran bomb blast in Punjab. He was extradited from Vienna in Austria. Two persons were killed in a powerful explosion in a vacant plot on the outskirts of Pandori Gola village in Tarn Taran, leaving two dead and one injured. The three had been digging a pit to retrieve an explosive consignment when the bomb went off.
A day after the arrest, the Sarhali police station in Tarn Taran was targeted using a rocket-propelled grenade late on Friday night. Over the past one year, six such attacks have been carried out at the police and Army establishments in the State, said an official.
Harpreet Singh, who carried a ₹10-lakh reward for his alleged role in the Ludhiana court blast about a year ago, was arrested by the NIA after he landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on December 1. “Persistent attempts are being made by pro-Khalistani banned outfits to foment trouble in Punjab. Huge funds have been channelled from abroad. There is prima facie evidence that in the garb of music videos, also being advertised on a popular video sharing platform, violence is being promoted,” the official said.
The agencies have zeroed in on several suspects and accused in Europe, Canada and the United States, many among whom run large criminal syndicates in Punjab.
8. ‘Clean Ganga’ changes course to conservation, tourism, livelihood
Tourism Ministry to prepare comprehensive plan for developing tourism circuits along the Ganga in line with Arth Ganga, organic farming and cultural activities; exhibitions and fairs have been planned in 75 towns along the main stem of the river
Marking a shift in emphasis, the Union government’s flagship Namami Gange programme, conceived to improve the sanitation levels in the Ganga, is now geared towards conservation, tourism and providing livelihoods.
At a meeting on December 8 of the top body tasked with coordinating Namami Ganga activities and chaired by Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, the thrust of decisions focused on having the Tourism Ministry develop a “comprehensive plan” for developing tourism circuits along the Ganga in line with Arth Ganga, organic farming and cultural activities.
Arth Ganga, or harnessing economic potential from the Ganga, follows from a directive by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2019, after chairing a similar meeting of the Ganga taskforce.
Proceedings of the meeting suggest that along with developing “tourism circuits”, the Ministry was planning exhibitions and fairs in 75 towns along the main stem of the river; the Agriculture Ministry was taking steps to build organic farming and natural farming corridors; the Urban Affairs Ministry was focused on mapping drains and solid waste management, and the Environment Ministry was scaling up afforestation and conservation efforts to protect the Gangetic river dolphin.
Asok Kumar, Director, National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), said in a statement that in the past six months, several workshops and visits were organised for farmers who were being “nudged and sensitised” to shift to “natural farming”.
In States, the focus would be expeditiously completing projects and every Ganga district was expected to develop a scientific plan and health card for at least 10 wetlands and adopt policies for reuse of treated water and other by-products.
Since 2014, when the cleaning of the Ganga was launched as a marquee government programme, close to ₹30,000 crore had been sanctioned for various projects, including building and improving sewers and river rejuvenation activities.
Updated estimates from the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) suggest that of 408 projects sanctioned under the programme, 228 have been completed, 132 are “in progress”, and the rest in various stages of tendering.